A Hypertext Approach to Foreign Language Reading:
Student Attitudes and Perceptions
The University of Southern Queensland
This article reports the results of a study conducted to examine the use of three
different reading text formats: paper-based format (PF), computer-based
non-hypertext format (NHF), and computer-based hypertext format (HF). It
investigates foreign language learners' reactions to the three text formats,
focusing particularly on the usefulness of hyperlinks in computer-mediated text
to provide readers with optional assistance during independent reading. Data
collected from an interview with a group of Korean as a foreign language (KFL)
students are presented and discussed. The results of this study show that the
students considered the use of hyperlinks to be helpful and useful for their
learning and suggest that it is important to look at the way in which reading
materials and supporting information are presented when designing or selecting
computer-assisted language learning (CALL) programs.
Of all the areas in which computers have been
used to teach language skills, reading is one of the language activities which
has received great attention in research and instruction. One of the approaches
which is being discussed for effective computer-assisted reading practice and
is becoming significant in recent computer-assisted language learning (CALL)
activities is the use of hypertext (Ashworth, 1996; Biber, 1992; Donaldson,
Haggstrom & Morgan, 1994; Evans, 1993; Fox, 1990; Hult, Kalaja, Lassila
& Lehtisalo, 1990; McVicker, 1992; Sengupta, 1996; Son, 1998). This article
presents the results of an interview study that examined the different aspects
of three presentation methods of reading passages and lexical resources in
three different text formats: a paper-based format (PF), a computer-based
non-hypertext format (NHF), and a computer-based hypertext format (HF). With a
special focus on the use of hyperlinks (or hypertext links) for presenting
lexical information, the study specifically explored on-line lexical resources
of hypertext-based courseware for learning Korean as a foreign language (KFL)
and investigated students' attitudes toward the three reading text formats and
perceptions of reading linear texts and non-linear texts.
HYPERTEXT AND CALL
Hypertext can be simply defined as "non-sequential text which is organised to allow readers/users access to non-linear information" (Son, 1998, p. 115). Similarly, Slatin (1991, p. 56) defines hypertext as follows: "A hypertext (or hyperdocument) is an assemblage of texts, images, and sounds - nodes - connected by electronic links so as to form a system whose existence is contingent upon the computer". Tolhurst (1995, p. 22) also argues that "hypertext can be viewed functionally as nodes of information that are linked, allowing readers to follow a variable reading path of associations based on semantic links". On the other hand, Whalley (1993, p. 8) sees hypertext critically as "a fragmented text form whose components can be rapidly accessed". He (1993, p. 11) points out that hypertext works for some aspects of learning and teaching, especially where text is a "database of facts", but not where text is a "configuration of ideas" presenting a writer's cohesive argument. With a particular focus on the advantages of connectivity of hypertext, Landow (1990, p. 42) claims that hypertext promotes collaborative learning in a situation where it is not important that "readers retain less information they encounter while reading text on a screen than that they read on the printed page".
A number of CALL studies (e.g., Armstrong & Yetter-Vassot, 1994; Ashworth, 1996; Biber, 1992; Hult et al., 1990; McVicker, 1992) suggest that the use of hypertext has great potential in language learning, and hypermedia applications can enrich learning tasks by providing learners with various types of on-line information. In this regard, Evans (1993, pp. 214-215) notes, "The integration of text, sound and visual data clearly is of great benefit to the learner as this will reinforce comprehension, pronunciation and contextual use in a way that traditional materials are not able to do". The most common activity in a hypertext application consists of "moving the cursor to a word on the screen, pressing a given key and getting the available information" (Leffa, 1992, p. 66). The linked pieces of information can be presented in a pop-up window or in a separate page on the same screen or a different screen. Hypertext systems can make an explanation of any word pop up in a separate window when learners click on any word that they find unfamiliar while allowing learners themselves to decide how much help they need and where they can finish their exploration in relation to the specific word or text (Son, 1998).
researchers (e.g., Chun & Plass, 1996a, 1996b; Hulstijn, 1993; Knight,
1994; Leffa, 1992; Laufer & Hill, 2000; Lomicka, 1998; Lyman-Hager, Davis,
Burnett & Chennault, 1993) conducted studies on the effects of electronic
dictionary or glossary use or look-up behaviour of readers on vocabulary
learning or reading comprehension without any special focus on the use of
hyperlinks in the presentation of dictionaries or glossaries, some other
In a comparative study of hyper-reference and conventional paper dictionary use on
the measures of consultation frequency, study time, efficiency and
comprehension, on the other hand, Aust et al. (1993) found that their subjects
were generally enthusiastic about the use of hyper-reference dictionaries.
Hyper-reference users could consult definitions for any word in an electronic
book, and after clicking on a word, the definition window immediately appeared
on the page opposite to the selected word. The results indicated that users of
hyper-references consulted over two times as many definitions as users of
conventional dictionaries, and users of bilingual dictionaries consulted 25%
more definitions and completed reading in 20% less time than did users of
monolingual dictionaries. However, there were no significant differences
between hyper-reference and paper media and between bilingual and monolingual
dictionary use in comprehension measured by a proposition recall protocol. De
Ridder (2000) also examined the effects of highlights indicating a link toward
dictionary definitions on the reading process. Seventeen Dutch learners of
French individually read two glossed texts in French under two conditions: one
in which the glossed words were highlighted and another one in which the words
were not marked in any specific way. From the results of vocabulary and
comprehension tests and the total amount of time spent on clicking and reading,
De Ridder found that reading a text in a marked condition is fundamentally
different from reading the same text in a condition without highlights. The
students felt conditioned to follow the links presented in the marked text,
which resulted in significantly higher scores on the receptive vocabulary test
taken immediately after reading and more clicking time in the marked condition
than in the unmarked condition.
The study reported in this article is part of a broader-based study on the relative effectiveness of the use of three different reading text formats (i.e., PF, NHF & HF) in the foreign language classroom, which included the quantitative analysis of vocabulary and reading tests and the qualitative analysis of questionnaires and an interview. The focus of this article is a semi-structured interview with KFL students who enrolled in a second year Korean language course at an Australian university. The 14-week course consisted of 8 contact hours per week, comprising a one-hour lecture and seven tutorial hours. A one-hour reading session was one of the seven tutorial hours that students were required to attend each week. The study was conducted during the reading sessions in a computer lab where there were 15 Macintosh computers. CALL materials for the study were accessed and used in the lab during the reading sessions only.
The students were divided randomly into three groups, each using different text formats. The content of the text materials used by each group was identical. That is, the students read the same reading passages in three reading conditions differentiated by three text formats. Each group was allocated one of the three different text formats for three sessions over a period of three weeks. After each three-session period, there were revision sessions covering the preceding three sessions. In total, there were three experiments during the study, each three-session period being designated as one experiment. The formats were rotated around the groups so that, through the three experiments, each group was able to experience all of the formats. The sizes of the student sample were determined by the actual student enrolments in the available classes.
In terms of CALL applications, the hypertext concept could be implemented by the format of stand-alone courseware or Web documents on the Internet. In order to focus on the use of hyperlinks in reading texts rather than on the use of the Web technology which involves issues of connection and retrieval time on the Internet, the study reported in this article used courseware installed in the hard disk of a server computer. The design of the hypertext-based courseware comprised an electronic glossary that employed hyperlinks to present vocabulary and grammar information.
All of the subjects in this study expressed
their willingness to participate in the study and filled out a consent form and
an information questionnaire on their personal background. Experiment 1 was
conducted with 15 students (9 females and 6 males; mean age 20, ranging from 18
to 26 years) over three consecutive weeks during three class periods. Of the 15
students, 12 students' L1 was English
A total of nine reading passages were prepared before the study. They were specially written by the author for both the course and the study, and then checked by two other Korean teachers who were also involved in the Korean course to ensure the appropriateness of the difficulty level for the students and the correctness of the reading passages. In the development of the passages, it was also necessary to integrate the reading practice, using these passages, into the existing curriculum, so most topics and patterns of the passages were selected from the students' main textbook, Learning Korean: New Directions - Advanced Study Modules 1, 2 & 3 (Buzo & Shin, 1994), which was used for the Korean course. Each reading passage contained approximately eight Korean sentences consisting of 90 Korean words on average and was used for one unit during one session.
A high-frequency vocabulary list compiled by the author was distributed to the students in the first session of the course. The list was a collection of the most common words to be found in several Korean textbooks used in the first year Korean programs in Australian universities. The students were allowed to refer to the list during reading sessions because the vocabulary information accompanied by the reading passages for the study provided only uncommon words or new words which did not appear on the list. This free access to the list served to allow the students to prepare themselves before and during the reading sessions by giving them time to review words that they had learnt before. To understand the reading passages, the students had to rely heavily on the glossaries presented on the target text format.
A total of nine worksheets in PF were used for nine sessions. Each worksheet
contained a Korean reading passage and a list of vocabulary and grammatical
patterns. The passage was typed on the upper half of the page. The glossary
section on the lower half of the page provided context-specific definitions
for all of the new words and patterns. This structure gave the same direct
access to the glossary in the off-line reading as in the on-line reading
without using paper dictionaries.
In RE Ga, which was structured in a non-hypertext format, glossaries and grammar points were provided on separate screens when the students clicked on a certain icon on the main text screens. RE Na, on the other hand, employed the concept of hypertext so the reading passages and glossaries were linked in a non-linear way. The students were able to get the meanings of new words instantaneously and directly from the text pages while moving the mouse on the screen. Unlike the paper-based format and the non-hypertext format, there were also options for choosing more information on selected grammar points with the mouse as an indicator. From a gloss window, the students could access an information window via the 'More' button activated by a mouse click. The information window displayed information on the selected pattern with a grammatical explanation and an example sentence to give an idea of the usage of the pattern. By pressing the 'O.K.' button, the students were led to the main text screen. Whatever option they chose, it appeared on the same screen while displaying both the text being read and the glossary information at the same time.
After using the three different formats of reading texts, the students were asked to take follow-up tests in each session as part of classroom activities. The tests were achievement tests and included, first, a vocabulary test that measured the students' vocabulary recognition and, second, two types of reading comprehension tests (i.e., a multiple-choice comprehension test to measure their understanding of the text and a recall test to measure their identification of idea units in the text.). At the end of the course, a post-questionnaire was given to the students to document the students' attitudes toward computer-assisted reading activities as well as the students' evaluation of the computer programs they used during the course.
In addition, there was an interview which
lasted about 15-20 minutes per student
Question 4 was asked after showing and explaining to
the students the results of their vocabulary, reading comprehension, recall and
cloze tests. Although the students were asked four main questions in the
interview, the replies were not restricted in length and topic. The interview
allowed the students to speak freely about their perceptions and experiences
relating to the research questions.
This section presents the data collected from the interview which was recorded with each participant's permission and later transcribed. In the presentation of the data, the participants' actual words are conveyed as central so as not to ignore any particulars that might be related to the results of the study. The interview responses are categorised and presented here under the four main interview questions.
The most helpful format in understanding the reading passages
In terms of the most helpful format, most students chose HF (5 students), followed by PF (3 students) and NHF (1 student). The students who chose HF pointed out easy and instant access to the vocabulary information in HF as the main reason for their choice:
The students who selected PF mentioned that they could make notes and see all the information at the one time:
The student who chose NHF expressed his general impression of NHF instead of particular reasons for his choice:
The usefulness of the hypertext was also observed in his words:
In addition, he complained that there was no support for the sounds in PF:
However, there were some students who thought that NHF was good in terms of memorizing the words presented in the vocabulary section:
In brief, the students' responses indicate that
HF was the most helpful format in understanding the reading passages. The students
felt that HF, which provided immediate access to adjunct information, helped
their reading. While the students valued making notes in PF, they generally
disliked changing screens in NHF although some of them thought that NHF was
beneficial for vocabulary learning in terms of making them to memorize words.
All of the students expressed the view that listening to the words and sentences in the computer programs was helpful:
However, two students noted that they did not use the listening features when they worked with the computer programs because of a personal decision and a working style:
In short, the students' responses indicate that
the availability of the listening function appears to be valued by the
students. Most students made use of the listening option provided in the
Of the nine students, eight students responded that they used different strategies for each text format. However, it seemed that the students did not identify exactly what kinds of strategies they adopted in working with each text format. Instead, they tended to simply describe their techniques for using lexical resources in the three different formats. With PF, most students tried to write the meanings of the words and sentences in the passages in English or make their own notes on the printed pages:
With NHF, most students were more concerned with the learning of vocabulary than the understanding of the passages so they tried to use the on-line help on new words and patterns. However, they felt that it was annoying and time consuming because they had to go back and forth between the passage screen and the vocabulary list screen:
Because of the need to change screens, one student even confessed that she did not want to use the on-line dictionary while reading the passages:
The students expressed the view that it was easy to use HF and they could read the passages quickly with the aid of glossaries which appeared instantly on the same screen. They also made positive comments regarding the options for choosing more information on particular grammatical points:
However, two students pointed out that they used HF in a lazy way by simply looking at the English translations rather than trying to work hard at memorizing the meanings of the Korean words or sentences:
One student said that she used similar strategies with all text formats. The student tried to translate the passages with the glossaries provided and to write down everything in English. Interestingly, the use of different paths to the vocabulary information was not a reason for the use of different strategies of working with each text format to this student:
On the whole, most students tended to use
different strategies to approach the reading passages in the three different
formats, mainly because of the different presentation methods that were
embedded in each text format. It seemed that HF facilitated the reading process
of the students by enhancing strategies in a self-directed way although it also
allowed some students to work in an effortless manner.
With regard to the relationship between the preference and performance of students, the interviewees gave thinkable reasons for their test results with general comments on how they felt about the text formats or the reading practice. For example, Student A1 explained why her overall scores on the tests improved as she went along:
In addition to the above comment on her performance, she also indicated alternative directions for further experiments:
Student B2 compared the use of PF and NHF in relation to his scores on the tests:
Student C3 made positive comments on the use of HF:
For Student B3, NHF provided the greatest
difficulty in terms of focusing on the reading texts. He pointed out
disadvantages in the use of NHF in relation to his low scores on the tests
achieved from working with NHF:
It seemed to be natural to Student C2 that she got better scores with PF:
In her remarks, there was an interesting indication that she enjoyed the process of the experiments as well:
As implied by the above words, the students tended to agree with the assumption that their test results are closely related to their preferences in the reading text formats, even though there were some unexpected results:
On the question of whether the difficulty of the reading passages influenced their test results, five students did not think it affected their performance:
Although the difficulty levels of the reading passages were carefully controlled in terms of the number of sentences and the complexity of sentence structures, the rest of the students (four students) expressed the view that there were some easy and difficult passages and the difficulty of the reading passages might affect their results:
In summary, most students agreed that the test results reflected their performance
and perception in each text format. The students' responses indicate that the
reason they gained the lowest scores on the tests when they worked with NHF was
that they did not like the way they had to work with it.
The study was conducted in a foreign language classroom equipped with computers. University students learning KFL were given identical Korean passages to read in three text formats. In PF, the students read the target passages on printed pages accompanied by glossaries. In NHF and HF, they read the passages on computer screens that offered on-line glossaries with sound.
The results of the study indicate that, due to the ease of working on the target text with a reference, the students were able to focus on the target text more in HF and PF than in NHF. There were similar degrees of motivation in working with HF and PF. The students seemed less motivated by NHF because they did not like getting adjunct information on the target text by changing screens, which they found annoying and time-consuming.
PF was the format that the students reported they felt was easier to use because they were most familiar with it and the format allowed the students to make notes on the text. While the students regarded the information in HF as helpful, most students pointed out that they needed to write the meaning of the text on paper in order to study the text. Presumably, the students might need a certain period of time to get used to the instructional treatment of HF before they can take advantage of the instructional approach HF offered. These findings suggest that using HF and PF together might be the best way of helping students read and understand the text, provided that there is no time pressure.
In relation to the question of what students think about hyperlinks, this study found that the students considered the use of hyperlinks as helpful and useful for their learning. It also showed that the students had a preference for HF in comparison with NHF. The students tended to actively use the hyperlinks embodied in the HF program and demonstrated positive attitudes toward hypertext applications and computer-assisted reading activities.
These findings suggest that it would be worthwhile to use hyperlinks in the presentation of on-line references. The findings also support the idea that hypertext can assist language learning because of its linking abilities. Hypertext is likely to facilitate a discovery approach, enrich learning experiences and enhance learning strategies in a self-directed way. Certainly, no hypertext applications can be expected to be useful and helpful for all FL learners in all circumstances. Rather, the results of this study suggest the need for further investigation of hypertext applications. In order to find a way to enhance the design of FL courseware, this study was undertaken with specially designed courseware only. It would be valuable for future research to investigate the use of hyperlinks in other contexts such as on the World Wide Web.
Further investigations are surely needed to
compare and evaluate paper-based formats and hypertext-based formats in various
ways as well as to determine
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
Considering that the concept of hypertext is quite different from the traditional paper-based paradigm with which students are already familiar, the finding of positive reactions to HF by the students suggests further use of hyperlinks for the presentation of on-line information. The students found the hypertext-based texts and reference aids helpful to their study of Korean in the reading component. They clearly preferred HF to NHF and noted that on-line information on vocabulary and grammar in a hypertext format is more beneficial than that in a non-hypertext format. This supports the suggestion that the linking characteristics of hypertext can assist FL learning by providing easy and immediate access to references.
The findings of this study draw out some theoretical and practical implications and
point the way toward further research. First, it is important to look at the
ways in which the content is presented as well as the content itself when
designing or selecting CALL programs for reading. In the long term, HF might be
more productive than PF, especially with the increasing need for reading on the
computer screen. In the future, it may be more important to know how to
optimize reading performance when text is displayed electronically. Also,
hypertext seems to have considerable potential for enhancing self-management of
learning and contributing to individual reading development. Second, there
seems to be value in using hypertext applications that present on-line
reference aids and provide reading texts and additional information on the same
screens. This might suggest to CALL software developers that it would be
advantageous to design more hypertext-based programs because students working
in an individualized learning mode find hyperlinks useful; one might suggest
the development of more hyper-linked reference tools such as learner dictionaries
and culture dictionaries. Finally, this study responds to the demand for
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